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Friday, April 29

Busta Scene: Getting Past Hard-to-Write Scenes

A reader asked...
What are some things you do to get yourself through a scene you either don't want to write because you know it's hard, or are having trouble getting through? How do you move that process along so you don't remain stuck in it forever (I'm sort of there now).

When I get stuck like this, it's usually because I'm missing a key element to move forward. I don't know my stakes, I've lost sight of my protagonist's goal, I don't know how someone else in the scene feels or what they'd do in that situation. It's central to the scene itself if not the book. Or there's something critical I need to do before that point and I've forgotten.

So I usually give myself a little time and let it simmer in my brain. My subconscious is pretty good at working these things out if I give it a chance. If I'm still stuck after a day or two, then I just sit at the desk and force myself to write something to get past it. Whatever I write is going to suck for sure, but once I start writing, the sticking point usually gives way and the story gets back on track. I'll go back after and clean it up.

Asking yourself the tough questions also helps.
  • What does my protagonist want here? 
  • What are they trying to do? 
  • What's in their way? 
  • Why is this scene important? 
  • What do I want the reader to learn? To feel? To worry about? 
  • Why does this matter to the overall story? 
Sometimes this shakes thing loose and you see what was missing and figure out how to fix it.

I also get stuck when I just flat out don't like the scene. It's like my subconscious is telling me "You there! Step away from the keyboard and no one gets hurt." Often I'll be going off in the wrong direction, or I've dropped the tension. I'm boring myself, so I know I'll bore the reader. The only way to fix that is to go back to where it still feels exciting and head in a new direction.

And there are the days when I just don't feel creative. This usually happens if I've been in a major writing spurt and spending a lot of time at the keyboard. I'm on the verge of burning myself out, so my muse goes on strike. Taking a few days off and reading and having fun usually works here. When I get back to writing, I usually know what to do next.

Regardless of the issue, it rarely takes more than a few days to get past it, so if after two or three days I'm still staring at the screen, I just plow through. Even if all I get done is a paragraph, it's something, and the next day I'll get another paragraph, and before long I'm back to my usual writing routine. It's hard, but as the sneakers say, you gotta just do it.

It's like any other job. There are those tasks you just hate and every time you have to do them you drag your feet. Eventually you grit your teeth and get it over with.


  1. Haha, I hope you ended up getting through your paragraphs. I took your advice and just plowed through and wrote some pretty horrid paragraphs and it totally jogged my creative brain and made me realize that I'd lost sight of my protag's goal, like you said earlier, so thanks for a great post as usual! :)

  2. Janice -- I need more advice! Shockingly, thrillingly, an agent is reading my full. I still have a dozen queries out to other agents. Should lightning strike again and a different agent request a full, do I mention that one is currently being reviewed? Thanks in advance.

  3. Grats Beth! That's fantastic. I'll keep my fingers crossed for you. Opinions vary, but I felt it was only polite to let any agents reading a full know others were also reading it.

    And Shorty, most welcome :)I did indeed get through my paragraphs. Glad you did too!

  4. Congrats, Beth. Hope it works out well for you. I've got a question Janice. It's about characters. How far do we have to go when creating a character's appearance (looks, eye colour, clothes, blah blah) and personality? I find that I give "personality" greater preference, because I feel that's how I can get readers to connect with my characters. Am I wrong in this assumption?

  5. Glen, I'm with you and I don't like to do a lot of "police blotter" description either (eyes, hair, build, etc). Some readers love knowing those details though, so I do try to add enough to keep everyone happy. As most things with writing, you have to be true to yourself and write what feels right to you. This is a good topic so I'll do more on it later as well :)

  6. oh thanks, I look forward to reading it. By the way, fantastic website!

  7. I get a lot of ideas for scenes, dialogue etc, when I'm out walking. A few months ago while totally stuck on where my plot was going, and getting nowhere looking at the computer screen I decided to push this creative walking thing - it helped that it was a beautiful day! I went out for a long walk specifically thinking about the characters, plot etc and came up with the way forward. It was like magic, and I was amazed.

    On the subject of characters and descriptions. I make description lists of the main characters for my own use,but don't add much of it into the manuscript (contemporary novels seem to go for less character description), as like Glen I prefer to show characters through personality and what they do. But interestingly my two beta readers said they'd like a little more description. Can't win huh!

  8. Shana: When I get really stuck, I take a hot shower and wash my hair. I think it's like a brain massage and gets it working again.

    I'd barely put any description in if it were up to me, but my betas ask for the same thing. So now I add some. Different folks like different things ;)

  9. Great post. For me, getting stuck usually happens because I feel like a certain scene needs to be particularly well written, and that can be intimidating.

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  10. Sarah: Thanks! It really can be intimidating, but no one has to see those first words but you :) It's okay if the scene is blah until you get it right. No one has to know.

  11. Typo: I also get stuck is when I just flat out don't like the scene.

    1. Thanks for letting me know! I try my best to catch them, but I speak fluent typo :)